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DGCA toothless

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Joined: 16 Dec 2006
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Location: Bangalore, India

PostPosted: Sun Nov 16, 2014 9:00 pm    Post subject: DGCA toothless Reply with quote

Interesting article by Devesh:


DGCA a toothless watchdog; urgent need for systemic changes to boost Indian aviation sector

For nearly a year, India has suffered the ignominy of demotion to a Category II status by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) due to the failure of its safety oversight regime to meet international standards. The expansion plans of its airlines in the US are stuck (Air India and Jet Airways can fly but cannot introduce new flights) and code-share agreements with US airlines remain suspended. The regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is said to have taken corrective actions to restore ranking to Category I. It even convinced the FAA to conduct another audit, due on December 8.

A month before the audit, on November 7, a SpiceJet Boeing 737 hit a buffalo that wandered onto the runway at the Surat airport. The buffalo was killed. The plane was damaged and grounded. Rotten luck, right? Surely, it was an aberration, as the aviation minister said the other day.

Except that it was not. In the last year alone, Indian airlines have suffered in excess of 600 "wildlife strikes" at airports. While a majority of them are bird hits, there were also plenty of animal strikes. Less than two months ago, a SpiceJet aircraft pounded a jackal at Indore airport. A few years ago, a Kingfisher Airlines plane socked a group of pigs while landing at Nagpur, giving a new twist to the idiom "pigs can fly".

At least five airports, including Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar and Kochi, have been identified as critically prone to wildlife strikes. The Surat incident, authorities said, happened because neighbouring villagers broke the airport wall to let their cattle graze. Seriously? What were the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which operates the airport, and security agencies like the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), responsible for protecting it doing? If a beast can simply wander into a runway, the highest security zone of an airport, what about determined terrorists?

Toothless Watchdog

To be fair, wildlife strikes are an accepted risk at airports around the world. The vast tracts of land are a haven for rabbits, snakes, canines and birds. But airport operators mitigate risks using technology such as surface movement radars and intrusion detection systems, along with intensive human patrolling.

Indian security norms mandate CISF watchtowers every few hundred metres so that the entire perimeter of an airport boundary can be monitored. In the event of a breach, repairs are to be done within 24 hours. These norms are practised at India's private airports. AAI-operated airports are a different story. Herein lies the crux of the problem. It starts with the structure of the DGCA. Unlike foreign counterparts that are independent, DGCA reports to the aviation ministry along with AAI and Air India.

Since 2007, when the last technocrat boss Kanu Gohain retired, a bureaucrat has headed the DGCA. A DGCA head is usually junior to the head of AAI or Air India. So the chances of the regulator pulling up either of these organisations are slim. "The regulator should be completely independent. When you have the regulator reporting to same ministry as the airport operator and airline, the possibility of cover-up is immense," said the operations head of an airport. The different regulatory yardsticks were visible in the recent fracas over pilot licences. The DGCA called for stringent action against Jet, but there was nary a word against Air India.

The regulator is still playing catch up with the explosive growth of Indian aviation. Until airport privatisation commenced, it did not even have a proper airport licensing procedure. A specific division on aerodrome standards and enforcement was created only recently. A severe staff crunch has often been cited as an excuse for all of DGCA's ills, but that sounds like a broken record (the situation at Bureau of Civil Aviation Security), which oversees policy and operations of airport security in India, is no different). But the net result is disastrous. For a metro airport such as Mumbai or Delhi, an inspection mandated by UN agency International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should take up to 40 man days. At present, it is done in about one eighth of the time, said the head of an Indian airport.

Need of the Hour

The DGCA is no doubt bent on regaining the Category I ranking. But its methods leave a lot to be desired. "By attempting to do in six months what normally should take two to three years, and without talking to all the stakeholders, the actions of the DGCA are resulting in a lot of confusion," said the head of flight operations at an airline.

Soon after the FAA downgrade, the DGCA hired senior Flight Operations Inspectors for monthly salaries of around Rs 7 lakh, matching industry standards, but the recruits are largely inexperienced. Funding is not the issue. With each of India's 8.5-crore air passengers parting with Rs 130 for a ticket as security fee, collections exceeded Rs 1,100 crore last year.

There are aspirations and there is reality. We may aspire to be the third largest civil aviation market within the next decade, but the harsh reality is that the government is doing a woefully inadequate job in the aviation sector, a critical driver of the economic growth engine. The BJP government should immediately implement the UPA-II decision to create a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Funded by fees paid by passengers and industry not the government the CAA will not be hobbled in its quest to hire skilled professionals. The CAA should be politically independent though (the previous government mulled appointing a bureaucrat as CAA head). The need of the hour is to drive large-scale, long-term, focused and time-bound systemic changes across the board. The government should look beyond regaining the FAA ranking.

I think it's time that the Modi Govt. look seriously at Civil aviation, and bring in the best minds to solve the problems.
We miss you Nalini!
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Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Posts: 2325
Location: BLR, DXB

PostPosted: Sat Nov 22, 2014 1:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice write up, a bit short but I bet that was the papers constraint not Deveshs.

"We may aspire to be the third largest civil aviation market within the next decade, but the harsh reality is that the government is doing a woefully inadequate job in the aviation sector, a critical driver of the economic growth engine. "
The NDA seems to be making a lot of noise but not doing anything- so far not much different from the old government.
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